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Dewey documents shredded as investigation looms

Commission told town to save pertinent info in Appelbaum case
August 25, 2017

Story Location:
105 Dagsworthy Ave
Dewey Beach  Delaware  19971
United States

Despite instruction to preserve documents from the Delaware State Public Integrity Commision, and right in the middle of an independent investigation regarding allegations against Town Manager Marc Appelbaum, a Dewey Beach employees allowed certain town documents to be shredded.

In an Aug. 23 letter to town solicitor Fred Townsend,  Richard Cross, the attorney representing more than a dozen employees who filed a complaint with the commission, said he was made aware the town recently shredded numerous documents, without oversight by anyone.

They aren't supposed to shred anything right now,” said Cross, in a follow-up email. “[The town] certainly shouldn't do so without supervision. We don't know what is in there, and there's no way the town can demonstrate what was or wasn't in there.”

Cross also provided a letter written by his staff member, Nicole DiBiaso, to Jim Dedes, assistant town manager. According to the letter, Dedes confirmed administrative staff, and somebody’s son, were disposing of and shredding documents.

Townsend said Aug. 24 a town employee brought their 10-year-old child to town hall as part of a community service project. He said the child was given old copies of comprehensive plans, and surplus agendas and supporting documents not used by the public at town meetings.

“The 10-year-old spent the day shredding documents,” Townsend said. “There were no original documents.”

Town officials received the letter instructing them to preserve documents from commission counsel Deborah Moreau shortly after town employees filed a complaint against Appelbaum with Delaware’s Public Integrity Commission June 29. The employees, a group including police Chief Sam Mackert, beach patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman, building inspector Bill Mears and nine members of the Dewey Police Department, have called for the a full investigation and appropriate disciplinary action, including but not limited to permanent removal of Appelbaum as the town manager.

In the letter, Moreau instructs the mayor, town council, town manager and all town employees to preserve evidence that may be pertinent to the investigation.

“While the commission has not yet taken action on those complaints, it is reasonable to assume than an investigation and/or litigation may be imminent,” writes Moreau in the July 11 letter.

She then includes a list of the types of information to preserve: written and electronic personnel records and employment contracts; security camera footage; digital communications; written or electronic documents; calendars; telephone records; internet search history; and email exchanges between council members that may be relevant to Appelbaum’s conduct.

Moreau could not be reached for comment.

Separate from any integrity commission investigation, the town hired Wilmington-based attorney Max Walton to conduct an investigation on behalf of the town. Walton declined to comment, referring questions to Townsend.

Regardless of the reason, Cross said this issue falls squarely on town council for not suspending Appelbaum with pay for the duration of the investigation.

“Town council allowed the accused to maintain control over the evidence during the investigation. Now documents are shredded,” said Cross. “It’s not a few documents, it’s bags and bags of shredded documents. This falls squarely on the town council who recklessly put no safeguards in place and has allowed Mr. Appelbaum to do whatever he wants without any consequences.”

Mayor Dale Cooke said the town regularly gets rid of excess documents, but acknowledged this is not the time to be doing so.

“Now’s not the time. It’s kind of foolish to do it at this point of the ballgame,” said Cooke. “But, I don’t believe anyone at town hall was doing anything wrong. It’s a lot of something about nothing.”

Cooke said council handled the situation in a manner that was just and proper.

“If anything changes, we’ll change our actions, but as of right now, nothing has changed,” he said.

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